Longtime residents of Pittsburgh should get a kick out of viewing the collection of photographs from the early days of the Hebrew Institute, recently posted by the Rauh Jewish Archives to the University of Pittsburgh’s online digital library, Historic Pittsburgh.
The 27 photographs, which the Agency for Jewish Learning donated to the Rauh Jewish Archives, range in date from 1915 to 1984. Included in the collection are class and graduation photos of students, the laying of the cornerstone on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District in 1915 and a 1921 photo of the school’s first “bus.”
“I love the Hebrew Institute photos because there are so many children in the pictures who are now adults,” said Susan Melnick, archivist at the Rauh. “There are so many people who will recognize themselves, so hopefully, they will log on and enjoy it.”
The Hebrew Institute got its start in 1911 as the vision of Rabbi A. M. Ashinsky, who wanted to establish a modern Talmud Torah. Its purpose was to make Jewish education a factor in youths’ lives by teaching Hebrew language and literature, and by fostering knowledge of Jewish history and ethics.
On Nov. 7, 1916, after garnering support from the community, the Hebrew Institute of Pittsburgh opened its doors in its new building on Wylie Avenue. The building housed a kindergarten, an elementary school, a student synagogue, a library, a printing department and sewing classes for girls. Housing also a game room and a playground, the building soon became a popular center for the Jewish community.
When Pittsburgh’s Jewish population began to shift to the East End in 1919, the Hebrew Institute began to use two rooms in the Colfax School for classes, and soon provided transportation for the 795 students enrolled.
The institute sold its original building in 1943 and relocated to a new building at Forbes and Denniston avenues in Squirrel Hill. The school flourished there, and by 1954, it had both the largest kindergarten and summer camp of its kind in the country. The elementary school also became one of the country’s largest.
In 1991 the Hebrew Institute, Community Day School and the School of Advanced Jewish Studies merged to form the Jewish Educational Institute of Greater Pittsburgh.
Funding from the Simon Hafner Charitable Foundation and the Giant Eagle Foundation helped to underwrite the preparation of the photographs for posting on the Historic Pittsburgh Web site, as well as supporting other work of the Rauh Jewish Archives.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)